Facebook’s new smart speaker enables co-watching for video

Facebook Portal+ (Facebook)

Facebook unveiled today Portal and Portal+, a pair of smart speaker devices that focus on enabling video calling via the Facebook platform.

The devices come with a co-watching feature that will allow users to together remotely watch content from Facebook Watch. Facebook also has a few content partners including Food Network and Newsy, with plans to add more in the future. The device also lets users listen to music together through streaming services Spotify Premium, Pandora and iHeartRadio.

The Portal comes with a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display, and the Portal+ sports a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display. Both are specifically designed to improve the video calling experience. Facebook said it's using artificial intelligence to power the device’s smart camera that follows the subject, panning and zooming in and out. The device also has smart sound to minimize background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking.

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In addition to video calling, Portal can be used to call anyone via Facebook Messenger, regardless of whether they have a Portal. The Portal also incorporates voice commands through an Amazon Alexa integration, which allows users to ask for information and control smart home devices.

In addition to the video calling and content watching features, Facebook also built in augmented reality effects. The Story Time feature incorporates custom sound effects and visuals and a teleprompter to allow for easier reading.

Given the ongoing privacy concerns and controversies surrounding Facebook’s platform, the company was careful to spell out exactly what information the Portal could and could not collect. Facebook said the Portal doesn’t listen to, view or keep the contents of Portal video calls, and for added security the AI that powers the smart camera and audio runs on the device, not in the cloud. Facebook said that the Portal doesn’t use facial recognition.

Both the Portal and Portal+ are available now for pre-order in the U.S. from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy. The devices will begin shipping in November and cost $199 for the Portal and $349 for the Portal+. Facebook is also offering $100 off any two devices.